Leadership: Consistent with Change

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Guest post from Travis Anderson

hand over keysAs Thomas N. Gilmore reports in his article, Effective Leadership During Organizational Transitions, leaders of organizations or programs are to focus on the seams between the subordinate roles and the overall strategic relation of the business unit to its environment.

Gilmore also suggests that the organizational chart be drawn in a way that promotes the idea of the leader?s job as being a supervisor of these seams between people.

This is a difficult concept because one cannot call a seam into the office to give a status report. The following story is an analogy to this point:

Recall the story about the drunk who loses his keys and is seen underneath a street light looking for them. Someone comes along and offers to help looking.
?Where did you lose them?? The drunk replies, ?Down the alley.?
The helper questions, ?Why are you looking for them here??
The drunk responds, ?Because the light is better here.?

Dark Alley-2
The important take away from this analogy is an effective leader must leave the light or comfort zone on a regular basis to adventure into the dark, unknown, shadowy alley to conduct business with some degree of ambiguity and uncertainty. Often this leaves the leader feeling at the edge of one?s competence and authority. The effective leaders constantly push themselves to work in the areas of uncertainty and vagueness. These are the seams of an organization.

Gilmore reports that leadership’s core task is managing uncertainty and coping with fast changing and shifting environments. In addition, teams will prove critical to leadership, as teams are more resilient and adaptive for supporting the organization as issues arise on the boundaries among tasks.

So, how do leaders stay close to the teams during conditions of rapid change and yet acknowledge that careerism, restructuring, changes in government regulation, and technology are all creating rapid turnover of leaders in industry?

For example the leadership team of a large health care organizations has had in a 10 year period, six Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of which two were acting, three Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), six Directors of Nursing of which two were acting, three Chief Operating Officers (COOs), four Vice Presidents for Health Affairs, seven Human Resource Executives, three Legal Counsels, and six Public Information Officers. As the author indicated, this is more of an extreme case, but it gets the point across (Gilmore,1990, p 136).

Organizations and program managers must understand that leadership transitions absolutely ripple through the organizational structure. A transition of a leadership position represents both an opportunity and danger. As an opportunity, they offer the organization a new perspective from the new comer as well as from existing staff looking forward to a fresh start. However, they also serve as a danger to the company if they do not understand the fragility of the team?s relationships (Gilmore,1990, p 137).

New leaders coming to an organization or a program face many challenges. Gilmore discussed the transition stages of a new leader to increase the benefits from a leadership change and minimize the dysfunctional disruption. The first initial stage is for the new leaders to join by connecting to the system that one entered. Many new leaders tell stories of their old organization, which displays that the leader is still connected to the former organization. The second initial stage is building a team by identifying key skill sets and competencies of people and then determines the appropriate changes required for effectiveness. This means that some people are let go and new people will be hired onto the team. The initial stages are foundational for a new leader, so due diligence is required before moving onto the key tasks to succeed over time.

Leadership Stages

The key tasks to succeed over time are really the nuts and bolts of the long-standing transformation that the new leader is trying to accomplish. Program leaders must communicate their vision to the entire program. People and teams accomplish initiatives. Reorganization or really a new alignment of the program is often required for developing responsibility and the managing process. Receiving buy-in from all levels is vital for the success of a leader. Often new leaders get so focused on the base level of projects, they forget about leading up to the executive leaders in the organization. If you do not have support from the upper levels of leadership, any initiative is dead out of the gates or at any time thereafter. It is important for new leaders to develop those working alliances. Managing change is where a majority of the action is at for a new leader. Introduce too much change at once and everything starts to become unbalanced. However, take too long and the inertia is lost forever. Remember, these are tasks to succeed over time in the organization or on a long-term program (Gilmore,1990, pp 138-141).

Conclusions & Recommendations

Change brings opportunity and during times of crisis, changes are in abundance. The times are tough and situations seem bleak, but the one that perseveres is the one to seek out these opportunities brought on by change. Find a gap, discover a niche, develop leadership skills, hold the bar high and never stop learning. Know that firms are automating processes, recruiting talent and transitioning leadership, and adapting organizational structures for better effectiveness.


Gilmore, T. (1990, May). Effective Leadership During Organizational Transitions. Nursing

Economic$, 8(3), 135-141. Retrieved August 26, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database